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Welcome to my digital haven - The Curious Dabbler, where I’ll be sharing my journey as an English teacher in Thailand and beyond. The fun is only just beginning!

New Years Eve in Saigon

New Years Eve in Saigon

On the day that David and I learned we had five glorious days off from school over the New Year holiday, we exchanged one of those silent, yet significant looks. You know the kind - no words were exchanged, yet we both knew exactly what the other was thinking…

In that moment we realized that the long awaited opportunity to travel to another country in Southeast Asia was upon us and we planned to take full advantage. Over the next few days, we discussed the possibility of visiting Singapore, Indonesia, or Japan. Ultimately, we decided on Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a choice partially based on ease of travel, as HCMC is less than a two hour flight from Bangkok, but more so based on our mutual intrigue of the city formerly known as Saigon. Over our five day trip, we dabbled in Vietnamese cuisine, educated ourselves about the country’s turbulent political history (and America’s part in said history), and soaked in the fast paced city life all aboard our rented motorbike (whilst navigating on Google Maps, might I add).

Friday, December 28, 2018:

Feeling like a million bucks with my Vietnamese Dong (VND).

Feeling like a million bucks with my Vietnamese Dong (VND).

On Friday evening, the 28th of December, fresh from our makeshift Christmas celebration, we left Phu Sang for what has become our bi-weekly trek of busing (or driving if we’re lucky!) to Chiang Rai International Airport, flying to Bangkok, and then onwards to our next adventure. We flew into Bangkok around 10PM and got a few hours rest at the swanky airport hotel, Amari. In the wee hours of the morning we caught an easy, less than two hour flight from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City. We touched down around 9AM on Saturday morning, exchanged our Thai Baht for Vietnamese Dong (VND), and bought a Vietnamese sim card for Dave’s phone. A word on Vietnamese currency - you may have heard that Vietnam is a gloriously inexpensive place to visit and you’d be correct. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a millionaire for the day - exchange your money for some VND! In America, our paper bills are between $1 - $100. In Vietnam, the paper bills range from the thousands to the millions! We had ourselves a few laughs over paying a bill or two upwards of 300,000 VND. But I digress.

Saturday, December 29, 2018:

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday morning, became overnight millionaires, bought a sim card, and scooped up some breakfast Bánh Mi. I dedicated an entire blog post to our Saigon food diary so I won’t go into much detail about this heavenly sandwich here. Suffice it to say, over our 5 days in HCMC we tried 4 versions of Bánh Mi and this first one was our favorite! Afterwards, we headed to a custom tailor shop where I had an appointment to discuss the possibility of having a custom wedding dress created at a bridal shop in District 9. Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, is home to some of the best tailors in the world. After learning more about the custom dress making process through online research and talking to a former teacher who had her dress made in Vietnam, I knew this was something I at least wanted to investigate further while in HCMC.

After meeting with the seamstress at the bridal shop, I ended up moving forward and had a custom gown made in two days. I will say that if you are considering having your dress custom made in Vietnam, I’d advise giving yourself at least a week or maybe even two to work with the tailors. The shop turned around a beautiful dress that was close to the picture that I shared and the details we discussed in our short time together, but I’m not convinced it’s my dream dress. This is partially because I’m not sure the picture of the dress I showed them is my dream dress. Although, the craftsmanship of the dress is beautiful, something about it is misaligned with the vision I have of myself on my wedding day. That being said, I only had time for one fitting since the turnaround time was so tight. While I do like certain aspects of the dress, there are definitely some changes to be made in terms of the fit and overall style.

Regardless, I am happy I went through with the experience (despite my fiance’s bewilderment). The way I look at it - it was an experiment that didn’t result in my dream dress, however, I’m taking home an incredible keepsake from our trip to Ho Chi Minh City that I will cherish forever.  And also - I’m not entirely giving up on this dress either! As of now I’m considering working with a tailor in the States to see if I can transform the dress into something I could wear to the rehearsal dinner, the after party, or the honeymoon. Another thing worth mentioning about my 48 hour Vietnamese fashion experiment is that while it was obviously not free, the dress I purchased was a quarter of the price of the dress that I used as inspiration from a popular bohemian dress designer in the States. I suppose only time will tell what becomes of my Vietnamese souvenir, but if you have any recommendations for highly skilled tailors in the DC metropolitan area, please send em’ my way.

A peek into the bridal shop!

A peek into the bridal shop!

Okay, if you were wondering what my sweet fiancé was doing while I was dress strategizing with my new friends at the bridal shop, he was sitting on the couch with his headphones in, scheming how to have a motorbike delivered to us. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t succeed. Around noon, a Vietnamese man rolled up to the shop on a brown motorbike. We paid him 1.2M VND (around $50) to rent the bike for 5 days and left the shop on said bike about ten minutes later, luggage in tow. A word on the traffic patterns in HCMC - never in my life have I seen anything quite like the organized chaos of dense traffic in this city. As of 2017, there were approximately 8.5 million people who called this city home. As 2019 is now upon us, I imagine this number has only increased, as well as the staggering volume of motorcycles that are used as the primary mode of transportation. In this overcrowded city, traffic signals are merely a suggestion. Driving on the designated streets seems to be optional, as we encountered many instances of motorbikes driving on the sidewalks to skirt around heavy street traffic. Trying to cross the street is a death defying stunt. Forget everything your Momma preached to you about looking both ways, keeping to the crosswalk, and following the traffic signals. In HCMC, you just keep walking or driving, trusting (and hoping) that the surrounding motorcycle drivers will adjust their line of direction to avoid you. If you’re patiently waiting on the side of the road in hopes of a clear path to make your dash across four lane traffic, you’ll be waitin’ a long time, pal.

Our Vietnamese ride for the weekend and my handsome chauffeur (most likely googling our next foodie adventure).

Our Vietnamese ride for the weekend and my handsome chauffeur (most likely googling our next foodie adventure).

By the grace of God, we somehow managed to navigate the 20 minute ride from the bridal shop to our Airbnb with two completely full 60L hiking backpacks strapped to our backs. HCMC is comprised of 9 districts and we opted to stay in District 1 (cue The Hunger Games jokes). We met our Airbnb host at Vin Homes, a luxury apartment complex with several swanky buildings, three different pools, a fitness center, a 7-11, and a coffee shop all “on campus”. We ran into a bit of a hiccup while checking in with our Airbnb host, as there happened to be a water leak in the apartment we had booked. Luckily, there was another room that was coming available later in the day. In the meantime, we left our bags with our host at Vin Homes and bravely decided to brace HCMC traffic to check out the popular walking street known as Bui Vien.

When you’re traveling abroad, almost nothing is certain. That being said, the one thing I’ve found to be true in nearly every city I’ve visited is the existence of an overcrowded, yet irresistible “walking street” luring tourists with cheap deals and loud music. In Bangkok it’s Khao San Road, in New Orleans it’s Bourbon Street, and in Vegas it’s the strip. In Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a narrow street in District 1 called Bui Vien lined with bars, restaurants, food stalls, and merchants selling souvenirs at all hours of the night. We visited Bui Vien during the day time to check out the vibe and kill some time during our Airbnb mishap. After surviving another adventurous motorcycle ride, our front seat driving and backseat navigation combo in full swing, we had earned ourselves a drink. With a quick google search, we headed to a nearby rooftop bar fittingly called The View Rooftop Bar...and what a view it was. The View is a low-key establishment, functioning primarily as a hotel that happens to have a multi-level rooftop with incredible views of HCMC and a comprehensive drink menu. We sprung for some beer, took a few minutes to decompress, and marveled at the sweeping city below us. Afterwards, we headed back towards our motorbike and Dave stopped for some roadside Banh Mi (which we rated as #2 overall, if you’re wondering).

When in Saigon… (at the top of The View).

When in Saigon… (at the top of The View).

Unfortunately, when we arrived back to our Airbnb our room still wasn’t ready. Our host, who sensed our dismay, graciously gifted us with some dried fruit (clever move on your part, sir) and his reassurance that our room would be ready within the hour. A bit deflated, but with our blood sugar on the up and up, we called a Grab to shuttle us to the nearest money exchange location. Within three minutes of arriving at the exchange our Thai Baht was swiftly swapped for VND and we continued to find an exorbitant amount of amusement in our newly minted status as millionaires. Exhausted but hopeful, we caught a Grab back to Vin Homes and made ourselves comfortable in the posh lobby as we awaited further word from our Airbnb host. About a half an hour later our profusely sorry host ushered us to our temporary dwelling on the 22nd floor. We made plans to have our belongings moved to the room we had originally booked in the morning, although truth be told we would have been happy to stay in that apartment for the duration of our trip. The apartment was sharp. Granite counter tops and steel appliances formed a modern kitchen. A chicly decorated living room opened to a balcony with city views. Curtains and lights shifted and dimmed by the mere push of a button. Relieved to finally settle into a home base of sorts, we took a few hours to freshen up, relax, and enjoy our luxurious lodgings.

In the evening, we headed back to the alluring Bui Vien street for dinner via Grab (I warned you it was irresistible, didn’t I!?). The calmness of our afternoon stroll had transformed into a raucous scene of libations, loud music, and swarms of people. We wandered down the busy street towards Five Oysters restaurant where we shared a bowl of beef pho, a Vietnamese pancake, and some spring rolls. It was all delicious, especially the crispy yellow pancake filled with pork and shrimp. After dinner, we decided to check out HCMC’s craft beer scene and visited East West Brewery, a dimly lit, two level pub headed by an American brewer. We enjoyed a flight of beer on the rooftop amidst conversation about teaching, future travel plans, and our goals for the new year. Afterwards, we turned in for a snooze in preparation for the early morning ahead.

The industrial chic East West Brewery, headed by an American brewer.

The industrial chic East West Brewery, headed by an American brewer.

Sunday, December 30, 2018:

In my experience, there are two ends to the “traveling spectrum”. On the one end, there’s the kind of people who prefer to wing it - arriving at their destination with no plans (and sometimes no accommodations...) other than to have a good time. And on the other end, are the proactive planners - the kind of people who do loads of worthwhile research beforehand and book reservations for exciting excursions, fancy dinners, and lush accommodations well in advance. In my relationship, David happens to be the latter, while I’d consider myself to be a bit closer to the former end of the spectrum. Lucky for us, it tends to work out most of the time, which is how we found ourselves catching a tour to visit Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region early on Sunday morning. If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’ve never heard of this land either. About a two hour drive west of Saigon, the Mekong Delta region is the area in southwest Vietnam where the Mekong River flows into the South China Sea. The river is the 12th longest river in the world, forming in China and snaking through Tibet, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The villages and towns surrounding the river have built an economy based on agriculture - namely rice paddies, fish farms, and fruit plantations. Our full day tour to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region gave us an inside look at some of these small villages, to learn how the locals live in harmony with the river and profit from the land.

Floating houses that line the Mekong River in Vietnam.

Floating houses that line the Mekong River in Vietnam.

After a two hour bus ride to the Mekong Delta region (during which I should mention, our bus driver decided to make a pit stop for some Pho which we found wildly hilarious), we boarded a speed boat to our first stop on the tour - a small farm specializing in homemade honey. We observed the bees and sampled different teas with the freshly made honey. The next stop was a local village shop where we observed the process for making different kinds of food from rice - who knew this seemingly simple food could be so versatile? We learned about the process for creating popped rice (think Rice Krispy cereal), rice paper, and a few different kinds of sweet rice based snacks. We also learned about the process for creating coconut based candy, as the Mekong Delta region is rich in coconuts. We ended up buying five bags of this taffy like candy in different flavors (hope you like coconut, fam!). After the tour of the village shop, we boarded the boat onwards to visit a fruit plantation. We arrived at the fruit plantation and were seated at a table with our tour constituents in front of a small stage. For the next half an hour we were treated to a show of traditional Vietnamese song and dance and a variety of fresh fruit including a few kinds I had never tried before like longan and the java apple.

Learning how rice paper is made…

Learning how rice paper is made…

The next “stop” on the tour was an intimate boat ride through a peaceful passage in the river, steered by a small (yet deceivingly mighty) Vietnamese woman standing at the back of the boat. For the next half an hour we donned the traditional wide brimmed hats (the kind you probably envision villagers from a small Vietnamese town to wear) and enjoyed a serene ride through the Mekong River. Along the way we passed by villagers going about their daily business, jackfruit trees, and other boats. At the end of the ride, we boarded the speedboat again to head to our final destination on the tour, another village for a late lunch. At the restaurant, we learned how to make fresh spring rolls using locally made rice paper and enjoyed crispy fish, Vietnamese pancakes, and the exotic rambutan fruit. Post lunch, we had the opportunity to kayak and/or ride bikes around the town. Dave and I decided to do both, starting with the kayak...and stopping about 20 minutes later. I’m not sure whether it was the strength of the river or our (re: my) lack of coordination, but we had some difficulty keeping the kayak straight. Shortly after we embarked from the dock we called it quits and paddled back to the restaurant. We opted for bikes instead and enjoyed a leisurely ride around the village, passing by a karaoke party, which (excuse my millennial jargon) looked quite lit. Tuckered out from the day’s activities, we boarded the speedboat back to the initial dock and settled back into our bus seats for the two hour journey back to Saigon.

Okay so I sucked at kayaking…but I was a pretty decent biker!

Okay so I sucked at kayaking…but I was a pretty decent biker!

When we made our way back to Vin Homes, our Airbnb host had moved our bags into our new room and left a key in the mailbox. We took the elevator up to the 25th floor of the building and settled in. Much like the first apartment, the vibe was modern chic. The appliances were new and sparkly, the lights and curtains were all controllable by the press of a button, and the view from the balcony was spectacular. Even though it was a bit of a hassle checking into to our room initially, we were pleased with our ultra sleek Saigon digs.

Peeping the sweet view at our swanky Airbnb digs for the weekend!

Peeping the sweet view at our swanky Airbnb digs for the weekend!

Sunday night we freshened up and headed into the heart of District 1 for a late dinner and some people watching. Per Dave’s google research, we found our way to Huynh Hoa, a hole in the wall restaurant known for their Banh Mi. The service was super fast, but the Banh Mi was just decent (our #4 pick overall). We joined the throngs of people sitting in plastic chairs watching the crazy tornado of motorbikes, cars, and pedestrians zooming through the city. This was an aspect of HCMC that Dave and I both really liked. On almost any street corner, you can find a group of people sitting outside, either at a cafe, a restaurant, or sometimes just on the stoop of a building, chatting with their friends and taking in the scene before them. After dinner we hit up a bar called Urban Basement for some post dinner craft beer. I sipped on a stout from a local brewery called Heart of Darkness (what happened to that guy right!?) and Dave opted for a light beer. Urban Basement was a pretty cool place - there was a sports match on TV and different sports paraphernalia decorating the bar. If you’re ever in Saigon and hoping to catch a game, I’d recommend coming here. The vibe was lowkey, the beer selection was nice, and the food looked pretty good too.

I’ve got a thing for dark beers and this Heart of Darkness stout did not disappoint.

I’ve got a thing for dark beers and this Heart of Darkness stout did not disappoint.

By the time we left Urban Basement we had worked up an appetite for dessert, which conveniently happened to be right around the time we passed by the Ben Thanh Street Food Market. The Ben Thanh Market itself is a gigantic indoor market in District 1, selling everything from knock off designer sunglasses to dried fruit you can buy by the kilo. The Street Food Market, as the name suggests, is a cluster of food stalls solely dedicated to luring hungry passersby with Vietnamese and international cuisine. It’s a bit commercialized and not necessarily what I would recommend if you’re looking for an authentic Vietnamese experience, but it’s a great place to stop  for a quick, casual meal, a drink, and some live entertainment. Dave and I wandered through the stalls, regretting that we weren’t hungrier for a full meal, and eventually opted for a grilled banana wrapped in crispy breading with a side of sweet, coconut based pudding on the side. It was good - but definitely more expensive than the more authentic street food stalls you encounter wandering around the city. After our midnight snack, we turned in for the evening to restore our energy for New Years Eve in Ho Chi Minh City.

Monday, December 31, 2018:

Having no plans aside from our evening ones, we opted to sleep in on Monday morning and enjoy the lavish apartment. I spent some time blogging and even made it to the gym on the first floor of the building. At our home in Phu Sang, the only gym I have access to is the dirt track around our school, so working out in a designated gym (in a swanky apartment complex, no less) feels like a luxury that I cannot pass up! By late morning we were ready for a day of sightseeing in Saigon. We hopped on our motorbike and grabbed some Ca Phe Sua Da and a cappuccino at one of the only open coffee shops we could find (I guess because it was NYE, many places were operating on a holiday schedule). Shortly after, we hunted down another Vietnamese meal of pork and broken rice, a dish based on using rice grains broken during the milling process resulting in smaller, couscous like grains. With full bellies, we hopped back on our motorbike to Paris Square to visit two of the sites I wanted to see most in HCMC - the historic post office and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Saigon Central Post Office is an architectural feast for the eyes. The building is distinctly European (French Colonial to be exact) in style, with a yellow and white exterior, large green windows, and a wide staircase leading up to the dome shaped entrance, displaying the words Buu Dien (post office) with a large clock underneath. It is a building that could be dropped in an old French city and look perfectly in place. Inside the building, a dome shaped ceiling and a marble floor creates a grandiose atmosphere, not unlike Grand Central Station in New York City. A large portrait of Ho Chi Minh adorns the far wall. On either side of the walls several clocks displaying the time in major cities around the world are hung underneath two maps - one, a map of Saigon in 1892 and the other, a map of the major telegraph lines snaking through Vietnam and Cambodia. The Saigon Central Post Office remains fully operational today, providing visitors the opportunity to purchase and send postcards to friends and family.

The gorgeous Saigon Central Post Office in Paris Square.

The gorgeous Saigon Central Post Office in Paris Square.

Across the street from the post office is the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, built by French colonists in the 1880’s.  At nearly 60 meters tall, built of red brick, with stained glass windows, and two bell towers, the church is another distinctly European building set in an Asian metropolis. A statue of Mother Mary stands in front of the church, which several visitors claim to have witnessed shed a tear in 2005. The church functions as a normal church today, providing a place of worship to Saigon’s minority Catholic citizens in a country that is predominantly Buddhist. Unfortunately, on the day we were visiting, the church was closed for construction so we were unable to see the inside, but the outside was quite magnificent.

The magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Square that was unfortunately under construction during our visit.

The magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Square that was unfortunately under construction during our visit.

Whilst wandering around Paris Square an attractive side street lined with cozy cafes and inviting bookstores caught our eye. As a self-professed bibliophile, at any given time there’s a good chance I’ve got a stack of no less than five books on my nightstand (a book for every mood), all of which I attempt to read simultaneously. Probably not the most efficient reading strategy, but it brings me great joy nonetheless.Turns out we had stumbled upon a pop up book fair, a book lovers dream come true! We took some time to meander down the picturesque street stopping to browse in a few stores. Though, I must confess I did not purchase any books on account of my recent love affair with my mobile bookcase, also known as my Kindle. For a very long time I was outwardly anti-Kindle, but I gotta admit the Kindle life does make traveling so much more convenient than lugging around 3 different books in my hikers backpack. I could devote an entire blog post on “to Kindle or not to Kindle” and perhaps I will, but in conclusion, our serendipitous run in with the magical pop up book fair made me fall in love with Ho Chi Minh City that much more.

Stumbling upon this pop up book far was definitely a highlight for this book lover.

Stumbling upon this pop up book far was definitely a highlight for this book lover.

The top historical sites I most wanted to see in HCMC were the post office and the Notre Dame Cathedral. At the top of Dave’s list was the War Remnants Museum. Having checked the boxes on my list, we headed to District 3 to visit the museum formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes, dedicated to shedding light on the brutal reality of the war. Growing up in the 90’s our only interaction with the Vietnam War was what we learned in history class, saw in movies like Forrest Gump, or heard in conversations with older family members. Right off the bat we knew that a trip to the museum would be a heavy experience, but we were certain it would be a worthwhile one and were interested in learning about this nearly decade long battle from the perspective of the Vietnamese. During our visit, we learned that nearly 2 million civilians died. We learned of the horrific, long lasting effects of the toxic chemical agent orange and saw heart wrenching photos of children born with deformities because of their parent’s or even grandparent’s exposure to this substance. We saw gruesome images of dead soldiers on both sides that made us shudder. We also got a first hand look at some of the machinery and weapons used by the United States military. Our visit to the museum left us surprised, humbled, and more informed about a dark, yet unavoidable time in America’s relationship with Vietnam.

The picture says it all, our visit to the War Remnants Museum was very humbling indeed.

The picture says it all, our visit to the War Remnants Museum was very humbling indeed.

After our visit to the War Remnants Museum, I had an appointment for my one and only fitting with the tailors at the bridal shop. If you’re wondering, Dave did not stick around the shop for this one; he dropped me off and wandered around the city for a bit. I wrapped up the appointment and made plans for the shop to deliver my dress to our Airbnb the following day. Inspired by an episode of the Netflix series, Somebody Feed Phil, we headed to a local “bean to bar” chocolate factory and cafe, called Maison Marou. Headed by two expats (one American and one French), this dessert lover’s dream specializes in transforming Vietnamese grown cacao beans into sensational morsels of chocolate. I ordered a generously size chocolate chip cookie, while Dave sprung for a chocolate crusted cheesecake. Both were incredible. We topped off our our snacks with a couple mugs of Marou hot chocolate, which we couldn’t finish on account of the liquid’s rich flavor.

In our sugary delirium we headed back to the apartment to relax for a few hours before our big New Years Eve night out. When planning our New Years Eve extravaganza in Saigon, we debated either spending the evening at a swanky rooftop bar or on a luxurious river cruise. In the end watching the fireworks from the water was an opportunity too good to pass up, so that’s what we chose. Dressed in our New Years Eve best, we began the evening with a toast to the new year on the balcony of our Airbnb. Around 8PM we called a Grab to drive us as close as possible to the dock where we would board the ship. The normally insane traffic in the city was even more chaotic as pedestrians, motorcycles (stacked with families of 4... even babies), and cars bobbed and weaved (and honked) their way through the crowded streets. Part way through our ride we decided to get out and walk the remaining 15 minutes to the dock (in three inch heels for me, might I add), as traffic was essentially gridlocked.

NYE selfie on our swanky Airbnb balcony.

NYE selfie on our swanky Airbnb balcony.

Around 9PM we had finally reached the Bonsai Legacy, our version of Cinderella’s magic pumpkin that would carry us around like royalty for the evening until the clock struck 12:30 AM. Upon checking in at the ship’s entrance we were led to a table on the second floor and given a welcome glass of champagne. The ship had three levels, the first two were set up for a buffet dinner with tables and chairs for each party of guests and a live band. The third level was the top deck, open to the night sky. This level had a few tall tables to set your drink on, an open dance floor, and a DJ playing a mix of oldies, top 40, and dance music. With the exception of the buffet dinner, the top deck is where we spent the majority of our time, dancing, taking in the views, and making friends with the other guests, who mostly appeared to be tourists. We made friends with a family of three teenage boys and their parents. The dad in the family was having what appeared to be the time of his life, dancing like nobody was watching in the way only seasoned dads can. To our surprise, his sons cheered him on and actually joined in on some of the classic moves like the sprinkler and the lawnmower. A little before midnight the ship docked and guests flocked to the top deck to watch the fireworks light up the sky. For a very surreal and exhilarating few minutes, we watched the show of lights as we rang in the new year on a boat halfway across the world with a hundred people we would probably never see again.

Mr. David at our table aboard the Bonsai Legacy.

Mr. David at our table aboard the Bonsai Legacy.

When we de-boarded the ship around half past twelve, we figured it would take some time to navigate back to our Airbnb, but we were in no way prepared for the sea of people and motorbikes that flooded the streets before us. I’ve never experienced a situation in my life that is better suited to the expression “packed like a can of sardines”. In a massive crowd, people and motorbikes stood at a standstill. Seizing any openings we could find, we attempted to walk in several different directions before coming to the conclusion that we simply needed to wait out the crowd. We popped into a nearby hotel, so I could rest my feet as my buzz wore off and my heels finally took their toll. Around 2AM, we stumbled back to our Airbnb by foot after being denied by two cabs, grateful to take our shoes off and turn in for the night.

A blurry shot of the sea of people trying to leave the city around 1 AM.

A blurry shot of the sea of people trying to leave the city around 1 AM.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019:

The first day of the new year started with a slow morning. We slept in until mid morning, only rising to move from the bed to the couch to watch some TV and do some blogging. Around mid morning, a man dropped off my dress. By noon we composed ourselves and hopped back on our motorbike, seeking our next Banh Mi adventure. Per Dave’s research, our final stop on our whirlwind Banh Mi tour was Hong Hoa. We each got a pork sandwich (which we rated #3 overall) and some Ca Phe Sua Da. Afterwards, we decided to check out the Ben Thanh Market, which I mentioned above. This is one of Saigon’s largest markets, with endless rows of vendors selling a vast variety of goods. In our pre trip research, the Ben Thanh Market continually came up as a must see for tourists. However, our tour guide on the Mekong Delta trip advised us not to purchase anything at the market, as we were likely to be ripped off. In our post New Years Eve haze, we parked out motorbike, walked around the market for maybe 10 minutes, and decided to call it quits. We were a bit directionless and overwhelmed so we didn’t have much use for the market, but if you go in with a specific agenda, I imagine it could be a fun experience walking around and haggling for the best price.

The Ben Thanh market, where we spent approximately 10 minutes.

The Ben Thanh market, where we spent approximately 10 minutes.

We left the market and decided to ease into the new year, enjoying our last few hours in our stylish Airbnb. We had evening plans to meet some friends, Mike and Carlie, who fortuitously happened to fly into Ho Chi Minh City on the morning of the last day we would be in town. We arranged to meet at The View on Bui Vien street for a drink around 8PM. In the meantime, David and I decided to check out the Heart of Darkness brewery, which if you recall was the brand of beer I had at Urban Basement. Turns out, the actual brewery was only a short drive from our Airbnb. We each had a flight of beer (mine obviously filled with porters and stouts) and we split a basket of the most amazing garlic truffle fries. Seriously, I will be dreaming about those fries for days to come. After our visit to Heart of Darkness brewery, we walked back towards Bui Vien street, stopping at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market one last time. My foodie fiance had one last bucket food list item to try, which was sort of like the Vietnamese version of a ravioli. We enjoyed the live music while munching on our dinner before making our way to The View to see some familiar faces.

Find you someone who looks at you the way Dave looked at his dinner at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market.

Find you someone who looks at you the way Dave looked at his dinner at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market.

We met Mike at the consulting firm that we work at in America. One of the nicest and most interesting guys you’ll ever meet, he’s become a good friend and career mentor to us over the years. Also worth mentioning, he’s easily one of the brightest people I’ve ever known, yet he somehow manages to remain super chill and completely down to earth. He’s currently pursuing his MBA at a prestigious business school in the States, while plotting his post grad career move. To give you an idea of this guy’s brilliance, his dream job is at Google and I’d bet money that he lands it with ease. I’d never met his girlfriend, Carlie, before but it was a lot of fun getting to know her and talk about work, life, and a shared passion of ours - traveling. When we met Mike and Carlie they were on the first day of their very own Asian adventure, similar to the DC Bucketlisters, that would have them visiting Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. We were thrilled (and impressed) that they battled through their jet-lag to spend some time with us. They make a great couple and we’re looking forward to keeping up with their adventures and reconnecting back in the States.

We had a great time catching up with our pals - Mike and Carlie.

We had a great time catching up with our pals - Mike and Carlie.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019:

The morning of our last day, we packed up our bags somewhat sadly and settled back onto our motorbike for one last ride to a coffee shop near the airport, where we would meet the bike’s owner to return it to him and retrieve our deposit. When I think about the scene now, I can’t help but laugh. We must have looked like some kind of motley crue - two farangs with huge backpacks and a wedding dress in tow (zipped up in a bag provided by the shop), trying to navigate to the airport in the rain without any kind of jackets. Yet, somehow we made it.

I must admit that while I was bummed to be leaving the city that unexpectedly became a new favorite of mine, I was quite happy to leave the motorbike behind in the city formerly known as Saigon.

So long for now, Saigon!

So long for now, Saigon!

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A Book for Every Mood

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